Siemens Stiftung’s Kenyan social enterprise, WeTu, uses specially-designed solar fishing lanterns for nighttime deployment on Lake Victoria. With up to 12 hours of light and 500 charging cycles, the lanterns are well-suited for nighttime omena fishing. The LED lights attract insects, which in turn attract omena fish that are picked up in fishing nets. The small fish are an important source of protein and income in the region. For around 70 Kenyan shillings (around 0.60 euros) per light per night, WePower provides a high-quality, long-lasting alternative to popular lanterns powered by lead batteries. Not only do these lanterns have a short lifespan of about four months, they also often fall into the lake during stormy weather and sink to the bottom where they corrode and pollute the lake’s ecosytem with heavy metals. The robust WePower lanterns float and are ideal for harsh conditions and boat journeys on the lake.
Currently, WeTu stocks two different high-performance lithium-ion lanterns, with 1,200 lanterns available for rent. WeTu is expanding its network of rental stations and is on its way to having 3,000 lanterns available. In addition to the seven existing hub locations, solar kiosks are being built on fishing beaches to make lantern rental even easier.
The rental models allow customers to forgo what can be a significant initial investment in a lantern, and save the effort associated with maintenance or disposal of the lanterns and batteries. The rental lanterns are charged using clean solar energy at WeTu hubs and kiosks, where they are also readied for deployment on the lake. WeTu uses its own solar panels for renewable power generation, providing a reliable source of power that does not rely on the local grid.
Security measures against theft are also in place: a “technical handshake” function ensures that the lanterns can only be used when they have been unlocked at a WeTu hub. After 48 hours, the lanterns automatically switch off and must be unlocked again before they can be turned back on.
The lanterns are long-lasting and can be used for at least two years. When the batteries become depleted, WeTu takes care of environmentally-friendly recycling or repurposes them for a “second life” as stationary energy storage, for example. From the end of 2019, WeTu will also play a role in the recycling economy by using WeTu hubs as electronic waste disposal sites. Old batteries and electronic devices from all brands can be dropped off at the sites. The initial disassembly and sorting process for these products will take place at the Homabay site. Components such as plastic, electronic parts, metal, and copper are sold to partner companies that reintroduce these items back into the value chain. Any remaining non-recyclable parts are discarded in an environmentally-friendly way.